Excellence in Communication and English Language Skills Program

Presenting research comes with its own linguistic challenges, especially when the language is not your first/native language. Thus, the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs and English Language Programs are teaming up to celebrate the diversity of research and language at Washington University with the ExCELS Program.

This program offers an award that recognizes outstanding postdoctoral appointees who engage their audience with clear and concise explanations of their research, all while speaking English as an additional language.

ExCELS has been nationally recognized as an innovation in postdoctoral education by the National Postdoctoral Association in 2023.

Postdoctoral appointees from all disciplines and stages are encouraged to apply as we value the diversity of research methodologies and topics from the postdoctoral community.

Program Description

ExCELS consists of 4 mandatory training sessions and a required competition in which participant present a 5-minute research talk followed by a live Q&A with the audience.

All sessions are especially designed to help non-dominant English speaking postdocs enhance their English presentation skills and overall presentation confidence.

Participants learn science communication basics, develop the main content for a 5-minute research presentation in English, refine their delivery, and prepare for the Q&A portion.

A panel of three judges will select two winners of the ExCELS Program award. Each winner will receive a career development award of $500.

A third winner will be selected by the audience and will receive a career development award of $250.

Program Schedule – 2023

  • Wed, October 25, 9-11am – Training 1: Science Communication
  • Wed, November 1, 9-11am – Training 2: Presentation Skills 
  • Wed, November 8, 9-11am – Training 3: Narrowing It Down 
  • Tue, November 14, 8-10am – Training 3B: Presenting with Confidence
  • Wed, November 15, 9-11am – Training 4: Practice and Feedback 
  • Wed, November 29, 4:30pm-6:30pm – Competition!

How to Apply

Applicants must be a WashU Postdoctoral Appointee for whom English is a non-dominant language (i.e., non-native language).

Postdoctoral appointees from all disciplines and stages are encouraged to apply as we value the diversity of research methodologies and topics from the postdoctoral community.

Applicants must commit to attending all required trainings for the program as well as the competition event itself, barring major life events (e.g., loss of a loved one, sickness). This includes the trainings on October 25, November 1, 8, and 15, as well as the competition on November 29.

When filling out the application form, applicants must be ready to submit the following:

  • A brief paragraph explaining how your participation in the ExCELS Program will benefit your professional development (200 words maximum).
  • A 2-minute video of yourself explaining your research (instructions appear below).
  • An up-to-date CV.

Application Deadline: Monday, October 2nd, 5pm CT

Notifications of application status will be sent out no later than Wednesday, October 11th.

Preparing Your Video Submission

To complete the application form, you will be asked to provide a video of yourself explaining what your research is about. Please make sure the video meets the following criteria:

  • The video shows your full body, from head to toe.
  • You are audible (i.e., reduce background noise as much as possible).
  • You are not reading off a script, note cards, or slide–this doesn’t have to be perfect, but it does need to be natural.
  • You are looking into the camera.
  • The day’s date is stated at some point during the video.
  • The video is a single take (not edited together) and is no longer than 120 seconds (2 minutes) in length (content after the 2 minute mark will not be viewed).

Take a look at this example video to get a better sense of what is expected. The example was made using a Zoom recording, so nothing fancy at all.

The Competition

The competition for the ExCELS Program will take place on Wednesday, November 29th, 2023, 4:30-6:30pm in the Holden Auditorium on the Medical Campus.

Participants will take turns at the mic, giving their practiced presentation and fielding questions in front of an audience of friends, family, peers, and a panel of three judges.

Each participant will give a 5-minute (timed) presentation of their research with only 1 slide to help them. After presenting, they will be asked 2 questions, sourced from audience members. The Q&A session will last up to 5 minutes for each participant. Please know that the event will be recorded, and participants will receive a copy of their performance.

A reception will follow after the presentations, at which the judges will announce two winners of the 2023 ExCELS Program award. Each winner will receive an award of $500. A third winner will receive a People’s Choice award of $250.

Rules for Participation

  1. Participants must be a WashU Postdoctoral Appointee.
  2. English is a non-dominant language for the participant (i.e., non-native language).
  3. To compete, participants must attend the four required in-person training sessions specified in the program schedule above.
  4. Participants must attend the competition on the date specified above and give their research presentation in-person (i.e., participants cannot record a video of their presentation, nor can they attend virtually).
  5. Research presentations are no longer than 5 minutes. At time, the speaker may finish their sentence. Continuing to speak past the call time will result in disqualification.
  6. Participants can use only 1 slide to assist with their presentation. No animations, transitions, or videos will be permitted.

Judging Criteria

Three judges will listen to and score each talk based on:

  • Clarity of language (0-10 pts) – Is the speaker clear and comprehensible?
  • Content appropriateness (0-10 pts) – Can the content of the presentation be understood by non-specialists?
  • Audience engagement (0-10pts) – Does the presenter capture the audience’s attention and hold it throughout the talk?


Please reach out to Dr. Peter Myers at petersmyers@wustl.edu.